Bahram Gur Hunting
Page from a manuscript of the Shahnama (Book of Kings)
Artist/maker unknown, Iranian, Persian, or Central Asian
The Shahnama (Book of Kings) has inspired painters of miniatures for centuries. Written by Abu ol-Qasem Mansur (c. 935-1026) under the pen name Firdawsi, this nearly 60,000-couplet poem has come to be known as Persia's national epic. The poem tells the history of the Persian kings, from their mythical beginnings through the seventh century. In this scene, the Sasanian king Bahram Gur, a renowned hunter, prepares to shoot a lion that has set upon a wild ass.
A wide range of artists--from those employed in royal ateliers to craftsmen who made manuscripts for sale at bazaars--produced colorful illustrations and elegant calligraphy for Shahnama manuscripts, which were made up of individual pages bound together into books. Now mounted as separate paintings, these miniatures are representative of different hands, but follow fundamental conventions of Persian painting. Colors are applied in flat layers, there is little use of shading to make things appear to be three-dimensional, recession in space is achieved by overlapping objects, and distant objects are placed toward the top of the picture. The artists have combined these techniques with great attention to detail and color, creating lively and vivid depictions of famous events from this complex narrative.